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Mission of Gravity: A Book Review.

From the 1950s Science Fiction Podcast.

By Edward GermanPublished 9 months ago 6 min read
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1958 Solft cover issue. Art by Wally Wood.

Back cover of the 1958 paperback issue.

Welcome to the 1950s Science Fiction Podcast, where we delve into the sci-fi of movies, books, and stories from the 1950s. In this episode, we'll review the timeless hard-science fiction story "Mission of Gravity" by Hal Clement.

The novel was first published in Astounding Science Fiction Magazine between April and July 1953. Later, it was released as a hardback book in the following year and reprinted as a paperback in 1958. The story is set on a planet with high gravity, and its inhabitants are intelligent insect-like beings who assist a human explorer in finding a crashed rocket ship containing a valuable instrument package. The explorer is determined to recover the material at all costs, despite the dangers lurking on the planet.

In preparation for this podcast episode, I read the entire novel that I downloaded from the internet archive. The edition I used was the 1958 Softcover version, which featured the image of an astronaut on the cover. The cover art was created by the renowned Wally Wood, famous for his comic book art and panels in EC comics.

The Author.

To start my discussion of the novel, let's first talk about its author, Hal Cement. Hal Clement was a pen name for Harry Clement Stubbs, an American Science Fiction writer. He was born on May 30, 1922, and passed away at the age of 81 on October 29, 2003. Clement grew up near Boston, Massachusetts, and graduated from Harvard University with a B.S. in Astronomy in 1943. While he is best known for his novel Mission of Gravity, he also wrote many other short stories and novels, beginning with his first story, Proof, which was published in the June 1942 issue of Astounding Science Fiction magazine.

Clement joined the United States Army Air Corps after completing his college education, to serve during the Second World War. He was trained as a bomber pilot and completed 35 missions over Europe. After the war, he pursued further education and earned two Master's degrees, one in Chemistry and the other in education. Clement secured a teaching position at the Milton Academy, where he taught Chemistry and Astronomy. He was a passionate supporter of the Hard Sci-Fi genre and regularly attended SF conventions across the country. Throughout his life, Clement received numerous awards, including induction into the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame and being named the 17th Grand Master for the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, both of which were awarded in the late 1990s.

The Story.

The setting of the story is on a planet called Mesklin, which has a heavy gravity. The planet's oblong rotation causes a concentration of gravity at its poles and lighter gravity at its equator. Mesklin experiences very short days, with just 18 minutes compared to Earth. The inhabitants of the planet are intelligent centipede-like creatures who are adapted to heavy gravity. These creatures, called Mesklinites, are cautious about falling from even a short height since it could be fatal. The Mesklinites are a pre-industrial society with primitive technology, and they travel using sailboats powered by wind. However, some hostile Mesklinites use sailplanes, also known as gliders, as weapons. They launch the gliders using a slingshot device against the planet's gravity.

The story's main plot follows a human explorer who is given the task of locating the crash site of a rocket that contains valuable data about the planet. Charles Lackland is assigned to recover the rocket and, similar to European explorers who relied on native guides to navigate uncharted territories, he seeks the assistance of the captain of an ocean-going raft named the Bree. The captain, Barterman, agrees to take Lackland to the crash site in exchange for weather data possessed by Earth Explorers. Due to the planet's high gravity, Lackland needs the help of the Bree and its crew to handle his equipment. Additionally, Lackland agrees to teach English to Bree's captain, Barlennan, as an added benefit.

Throughout their journey, the Bree crew faced numerous challenges. The planet's weather and geography presented difficulties, including the presence of lakes, oceans, and other bodies of water that required the use of sailing vessels. Additionally, the rugged surface, featuring mountains and hills, was made even more challenging by the high gravity. However, the biggest threat came from the Meskinites themselves. The Bree's captain and crew had to navigate both friendly and hostile tribes. They successfully passed through the lands of friendly tribes by trading goods, but a hostile tribe used rods dropped from gliders to block their path. During a meeting with a tribal official, Bree's captain was accused of espionage but managed to escape and continue the expedition.

The Brees crew finally reaches the crash site, but they still face challenges due to changes in the planet's terrain. They climb a mountain and traverse a ridge to recover the rocket's instrument package with its data. Once the recovery is completed, Bree's captain tries to alter the terms of payment for services. The Miskinites want the rocket ship itself instead of weather data. Lackland opposes this and tries to convince Barltman that the rocket is such an advanced technology that they could not comprehend its inner workings. He further explains how other Earthmen have spent over half a lifetime studying how a rocket works. Eventually, an agreement is reached, and the Brees' crew is given the rocket, and the humans agree to educate the Miskinites in science.

My Thoughts

I enjoyed reading this story. I had been wanting to read it since my early teens when I saw an edition from the late 1970s with artwork of a swarm of centipede-like bugs crawling up a mound where a rocket was embedded. I found the title interesting but ended up reading other stories instead. The artwork I mentioned will be used as the primary cover art for my vocal media article on the podcast.

As an adult, I now have the opportunity to read the book for free on the Internet archive. While I enjoyed it, at times it was difficult to understand and the writing was dry until the action picked up. I appreciate the use of real science in the plot, but Hard Sci-Fi can be challenging for those not well-versed in science. Although I do enjoy Hard Sci-Fi, I also enjoy adventure-based Sci-Fi like Buck Rodgers and Flash Gordon. To be fair, there is some adventure in Mission, Lackland, much like European explorers who traveled the New World with the help of Native American guides, Lackland faced similar dangers as the Miskinites and could have easily died.

Understanding the book, particularly the science part, is not difficult. The author utilizes their education to create a scientifically-feasible story, making it believable that there are potentially alien worlds similar to Misken.

Conclusion.

Thanks for listening to this episode! Be sure to check out my links and linktree under my username EG/1985. On my website, you'll find my vocal media page with over 50 articles, including this podcast, as well as my Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube channels. Stay tuned for the next episode!

science fictionbook review
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About the Creator

Edward German

A long-time sci-fi fan who loves the internet. I am also writing on subjects other than sci-fi.

you can follow me on "X" @EdwardGerman3 Listen to my podcast The 1950s Science Fiction Podcast on Spotify for Podcasters.

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